An outright fantastic book on artist Dennis Tyfus, a monograph really, and a bulky one: 880 pages. It’s lavishly illustrated: every other page is a full colour illustration, drawing, painting, photograph or collage, and the pages with text generally also feature smaller illustrations. This massive tome is the best publication yet to get a feel for the scope and nature of Tyfus’s work.
It is structured around a year-long daily email interview, printed in English. Dockx’s questions at times seem designed to showcase his own reading & his own network – there’s a lot of name dropping. As a result, the questions sometimes veer a bit too much into the hot air territory art critics infatuated with their own theoretical framework like. In other instances the questions are simply a bit daft, like this one: ‘Have you ever worked with notions of camouflage in your work (as sometimes it can be interesting to stay under the radar)?’. But I guess I’m too harsh on Dockx: coming up with 366 questions is no mean feat, and it is to his credit he provides a fertile platform for Tyfus’s thoughts.
Tyfus – born in 1979 – isn’t into theorizing too much either and often avoids direct answers to parts of questions that don’t interest him. Taken as a whole, the text provides a heartfelt view into his life & artistic practice. The reader also gets a glimpse of a part of the Antwerp and Western art scene, and a fringe music scene rooted in the DIY ethic – Tyfus also runs the Ultra Eczema record label.
The risk with art books like this is that they end up being ‘just’ coffee table books, but I do think this one is actually worth reading. The format lends itself to that task easily: just read one Q&A a day – or a few each week – for a year, and you’re done. To me, that never felt like a chore.
I have to say my respect for Tyfus has grown a lot because of this book. I liked his work before I read this, but my understanding was superficial at best – even though we have mutual acquaintances, as I’ve lived in Antwerp for about 20 years and visited some of the same places and shows mentioned throughout. Because of the interview it has become clear to me how vast, consistent, radical and longstanding his artistic practice is. Tyfus truly seems a homo universalis as one of the essays at the end of the book claims, and he has a kind of honest, hands on attitude that should inspire many – albeit there is something tragic in his relentless pursuit of fun too. I’d also underestimated a certain social factor in his work, knitting a community along the way. As such, it’s fitting the book also serves as a chronicle of the birth of De Nor – a sculpture anex open air venue for experimental music & performance in the Middelheim Museum park in Antwerp.
All that aside: first and foremost Dennis Tyfus is a master drawer, and this book should be bought for the treasure trove of drawings it is alone. For some readers it might be of note that it also features quite a few new pencil color drawings, not published in the excellent Up- And Downgrades Pt. 1.
Nico Dockx talks with Dennis Tyfus – I know this sounds quite ridiculous, but I just follow the line won an award for best designed book in Flanders in 2019, rightly so. It’s highly recommended. Get it while you still can: there were only 750 copies printed.